LSO Live – Strauss’s Alpine Symphony/Haitink

0 of 5 stars

Eine Alpensinfonie, Op.64

London Symphony Orchestra
Bernard Haitink

Recorded June 2008 in Barbican Hall, London

Reviewed by: Peter Joelson

Reviewed: March 2010
Duration: 50 minutes



An Alpine Symphony, the last of Strauss’s tone poems, thus began life in the balmy year of 1911 when all was right in the European world but it was not complete until 1915 when the war to end all wars was well underway. The result describes a day in the mountains, from darkness before sunrise, brisk climbing, distant hunters’ horns, the grand vista, rain, wind and thunder, and the return home.

The orchestra involved is very large, with eight horns, another twelve for the hunters (if not on this recording), wind- and thunder-machines and a part for organ (an instrument not built-into the Barbican Hall). The enormous forces are balanced by some spare and delicate writing for string solos. Bernard Haitink and the London Symphony Orchestra produce a colourful and energetic reading well-nigh-perfectly executed, and in this Haitink’s usual sense of the long line is in evidence, each section leading seamlessly into the next.

The atmosphere of the darkness before sunrise and at sunset is very strong, and the climax for the sunrise itself very successful. The ascent is vigorous, the orchestra principals doing a very job in the pastoral scenes by the brook and meadows, and during the quiet before the storm. The hunters’ horns when heard through the surround sound layer come from the listener’s direct left and are suitably distant; this section was perhaps recorded in a rehearsal as the concert performances offered this writing from a stage perspective, but the post-producrion result is very effective. The joy on reaching the summit is well caught with its outpouring of emotions. The LSO brass is superb especially trombones and tubas at the bottom of the stave! If the Barbican Hall does not have a built-in pipe organ, at least the Allen electronic instrument used here sounds very fine and does not compromise the end result while certainly adding to the violence of the stormy weather, as well as conjuring up wonderful colours during quieter sections.

There is no shortage of excellent recordings of this work, some also as high resolution SACDs, and this very fine reading joins the best of them with honour. Generally, Rudolf Kempe’s two recordings still make rewarding listening, as do André Previn’s brace and Mariss Jansons’s. The sound quality of this LSO Live production is excellent in both stereo and surround versions, with plenty of air around the instruments, the whole set in a believable acoustic. The result is one of the best-sounding recordings I have heard from this label. Coupled with Bernard Haitink’s clear and powerful vision in his interpretation, the results are thrilling indeed.

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